Biology professors Ryan Huish and Morgan Wilson and Audio Visual Assistant Anna Copplestone have worked with The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) to plant ten American chestnut tree saplings on the Hollins campus this spring.
A brief ceremony was held on May 13 marking the planting of three of the saplings on the hillside behind Cromer Bergman Alumnae House.
At one time, an estimated four billion chestnut trees, one-quarter of the country’s hardwood tree population, grew over 200 million acres of eastern woodlands from Maine to Florida. The tree was an important food source for a variety of wildlife, rural communities depended on annual chestnut harvests as a cash crop to feed livestock, and the chestnut lumber industry played a significant role in rural economies. However, a lethal fungus infestation that occurred during the first half of the 20th century nearly decimated the American chestnut tree population.
In 1983, a group of prominent plant scientists established TACF to successfully reintroduce the American chestnut tree to its native habitat in the United States. Headquartered in Asheville, North Carolina, TACF has used a plant breeding technique known as “backcrossing” to incorporate blight resistance into the American chestnut.
At Hollins, the chestnut trees will serve as an educational tool for the biology department, and as “a living symbol of the hope of ongoing biological exploration as well as a tribute to the biocultural heritage of our region,” said Copplestone.